Downers Grove parents, students clash over removal of LGBTQ graphic novels from school libraries

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DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. — Some Downers Grove parents say they want publications they call ‘pornography’ removed from the high schools’ libraries.

At a school board meeting Monday night, parents challenged at least three books in the high school library. One book, a graphic novel called “Gender Queer,” has caused national and local controversy. While some say the issue is about pornography, others believe the problem is homophobic censorship.

Portions of “Gender Queer” contain what parents say are ‘way too graphic’ scenes for their children to see, including depictions of oral sex. According to parents, there should be more say about sexually explicit content in school literature.

The district says the books in question are about inclusivity, adding that the images in question are being taken out of context.

After considering parent complaints, the district says it reviewed the intent of “Gender Queer,” an American Library Association Award Winner, and felt it meets its criteria for inclusion in their libraries.

The American Library Association says most of its most challenged books addressed sex, race, and gender identities last year.

The issue came to light, not because a student saw, was offended, or asked questions about the books, but because a mom saw the publication listed as suggested reading material on a message board and saw that other books were in question at schools across the country.

“We’re against the graphic sexual content in some of these books,” said Downers Grove South High School parent Terry Newsome. “We’re not anti-gay, homophobic, any of that.”

High school senior Abigail Colucci said that many are jumping to conclusions unjustly.

“I think that they saw the word queer and they immediately thought this is an agenda that’s being pushed across to kids,” Colucci said.

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Lauren Pierret, another high school senior, agreed.

“One of my classmates actually read the book, and we sat down and discussed it earlier today,” Pierret said. “But it wasn’t graphic. It was just something that’s in the average teenage high school experience.”

Some parents say such books shouldn’t be a part of the high school experience.

“In several other states, those same books have been deemed pornographic,” said Jim Devitt.

Newsome adds that parents deserve a choice in what their children read.

“If we can’t get the content out of the library, at least give us as parents a chance to opt-out,” he said.

While people on both sides of the argument made their case at District 99’s school board meeting, members will decide if removing the book from circulation is the next step.

“Censorship at the high school level shouldn’t be happening,” Colucci said. “We should be able to learn about all different topics, and so we can form our own ideas.”

Students said the books are not required reading but rather an essential resource for youth questioning their sexuality or gender.

“I think this book is a prime example of education,” said senior Josiah Poynter. “We need to realize that there are people who are different than straight people, and they have experiences just like everybody else.”

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